Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Year in Review--Books

Mother, Father, Uncle, Aunt (Garrison Keillor)
One of the better (less political) collections of Keillor's famous monologues.  My favorite was "Ronnie and the Winnebago," in which Ronnie takes his dad's Winnebago onto the ice to go ice fishing, with disastrous results--and what he learns as he works it off. 

The Mighty Queens of Freeville (Amy Dickinson)
This could have been a painful memoir of one woman's divorce. Instead, it was about her healthy rise above her circumstances, along with her daughter, due to the extraordinary support of an extended family of strong women who had survived and thrived through desertion and divorce themselves, in a close-knit, small-town community.  Honest, yet positive and encouraging. 

Ben Hur (Focus on the Family Radio Theater)
This excellent radio drama counts as an abridged audiobook, right?

The Pacific and Other Stories (Mark Helprin)
Wow, these are beautiful stories.  Rich, thoughtful, well-constructed.  My favorite is probably one about a woman widowed on 9/11 who asks a construction firm to make a few improvements to her condo and they re-do the whole thing, gratis, with the highest quality materials, while she's gone. 

A Postcard from the Volcano (Lucy Beckett)
This is the one book review I wrote this year. 

Rebecca's Tale (Sally Beauman)
If you liked Daphne du Maurier's haunting novel, Rebecca, you may enjoy this sequel written by a different author.  She imagines a totally different side to Rebecca and constructs a plausible defense of her actions and words, weaving new information into the events of the original novel. Intriguing and enjoyable. 

Barchester Towers (Anthony Trollope)
I just love the wordy Trollope, with his descriptive character names.  Mr. and Mrs. Proudie are ambitious, Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful have 14 children, Plumstead is a prize to be awarded to a deserving clergyman, Obadiah Slope is a clergyman of slippery principles, and I can't even remember the names of minor characters whose character you only learn from their names!  One of my favorite parts is at the beginning of one of the last chapters, where Trollope expounds upon the difficulties of writing the ending of a book, without rushing through it or drawing it out too long.  He states that if an editor would send him a sample of a perfectly written conclusion, he would gladly follow it, but since no editor had ever produced one, he'd just have to do his best. 

Midwives (Chris Bohjalian)
It was tough to find a book on tape that I thought Blondechick would be willing to listen to with me on a road trip to a prospective college, but this is the one she selected from my stack of possibilities borrowed from the library.  It's a fictional account of a midwifery malpractice case, told from the perspective of the accused midwife's young daughter. Not just another courtroom drama, this one stirs up emotional, ethical and poetic sensibilities. We both found it gripping. 

This Year It Will Be Different:  And Other Stories (Maeve Binchy)
This is a collection of Christmas stories that I found rather ordinary.  I've never read anything else by this author.  Should I give her another try? 

But This I Know (Patricia Bailey)
This is an autobiography, self-published by a dear friend of ours, who shares a lifetime's worth of personal experience with God.  She married very young, raised five children, was abandoned by her husband, attended seminary, became a pastor, and got a GED (yes, in that order).  She tells her extraordinary story in devotional-length short essays, full of gentle wisdom, that conclude with a healing, encouraging word.  (Ordering info here.) 

Heaven's Calling: A Memoir of One Soul's Steep Ascent (Leanne Payne)
Another autobiography by a friend of ours and author of many wonderful books on emotional and spiritual healing. While I found her story fascinating, I don't think it would have broad appeal to those who didn't know her other books or her conference ministry. 

The Moon is Down (John Steinbeck)
This was the book Bantam11 picked to read for a school project, so I read it too, since it's very short.  What a little gem of literature!  Steinbeck wrote this as a propaganda piece during WW2 to encourage resistance against the Nazis, and it was rapidly (and illegally) translated into many European languages. It's about a fictional Norwegian town taken over by Germans, and how the townspeople resist and sabotage the mining operations for which the town was captured.  The two protagonists are the Mayor, representing the town, and Colonel Lanser, the German leader, and the story is a fine character study as well as a conflict of ideals. 

Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
I just love this series.  I'm reading them aloud to the three younger children, and we're almost done with On The Banks of Plum Creek as well. 

Pippi Longstocking, Pippi in the South Seas, Pippi on the Run (Astrid Lindgren)
I love the first two.  I read and re-read them so many times as a kid, trying to figure out the unfamiliar words and expressions (since they are set in Sweden and translated from the Swedish).  The third one doesn't have the same charm; it reads like someone trying to copy Lindgren's style.  Great read-alouds, if you've never read them! 

Sisterchicks Do the Hula (Robin Jones Gunn)
I only picked this out because it was at the library and on audiocassette, which is all I can listen to in my car, and it was better than I expected.  This series is Christian chick-lit, and I figured it would be pretty fluffy, but there was actually some good substance to this story about two friends who go to Hawaii together to celebrate their 40th birthdays and have a number of God-filled experiences on the trip. I enjoyed it! 

Steps to Financial Freedom (Suze Orman)
Another book that I picked up simply because it was available on audiocassette.  Plus I wondered if she'd have any helpful advice on paying for college!  There was good wisdom in this book, but it was read by the author and her way of saying "dint" for "didn't" and "shount" for "shouldn't" (etc.) was really distracting. 

The Jesus Storybook Bible:  Every Story Whispers His Name (Sally Lloyd-Jones)
Thank you to my friend Jennifer, for giving our family this book!  I had to wait till the timing was right, but finally we read and loved this wonderful book that weaves the salvation plan into every story.  The kids never wanted me to put it down. 

Jewel (Brett Lott)
This was a moving story about Jewel, the matriarch of a backwoods lumbering family, whose sixth and last child is born with Down's Syndrome, in 1943 in Mississippi, where there is no support for the little girl besides her mother's determination. Strain on the family, on the marriage, and on Jewel's friendships are all consequences, and throughout, she questions God on who is and what He really wants from her.  Engrossing. 

Summer of Light (W. Dale Cramer)
I really enjoyed this story about a steel worker (Mick) who is forced by circumstances to become a stay-at-home dad for awhile.  I especially enjoyed the scenes with his neighbors, who were well-drawn, interesting characters. One of them gets Mick into photography, and he discovers he has a gift for it. I also liked the way Christianity is portrayed, with honest, genuine characters like the homeless, handless man called "The Preacher" and the willing volunteers at the homeless shelter. 

The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
This was an interesting read, so well-written, with engaging characters and a story rooted in true events in the Belgian Congo in 1960. As a believer, it was hard to watch the disintegration of the missionary family who were the main characters, and to see them all lose their faith by the end of the novel. As an American, it was tough to read the story of the crisis in the Congo and of America's role in displacing the elected prime minister. The tone got a little too political and agenda-ish by the end of the book, I thought, but I enjoyed the way this novel developed the story from the points of view of multiple characters over time. 

National Velvet (Enid Bagnold)
I think this is the fourth time I've re-read this short novel, this time because it appeared in a volume of short stories I had picked up, and I just couldn't help myself!  I don't know what it is about the language and the terse dialogue that always tantalizes me, but I think this is just a gem of a novel. I used to read it with a mind only attuned to the horse story element, but as I've gotten older, I've appreciated it more and more on many different levels.  This time it was for the remarkable and memorable characterizations of Velvet's family members. Do read this if you never have! 

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Thornton Wilder)
This one has been recommended to me before, and there it was in the same collection of short stories (Stories to Remember, Vol. 2, edited by Costain and Beecroft). It was interesting.  I think I'd need to read it again to fully appreciate it. It's about the lives of four people who die when the bridge collapses, and it looks to faith to make sense of the tragedy. 

The Sea of Grass (Conrad Richter)
Another novel included in Stories to Remember.  I kept trying to remember what I'd heard about this book, but I must have been thinking of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.  Later I realized that the author is more well-known to me for his novel (and later a movie) The Light in the Forest.  This novel is set in the West, at the time that the vast prairie of the cattlemen was being parceled up by the government and given to "nesters." It tells the story of a beautiful woman who comes West to marry a powerful rancher, has three children with him and then leaves him for a government attorney. Her husband and nephew (from whose point of view the story is told) never stop loving her, through the years and complications that ensue.  A literary, lyrical Western romance. 

The Cure (Athol Dickson)
This is a well-written and engaging story about a homeless man with a history, who stumbles upon the cure for alcoholism.  This was not a predictable story; I could never guess what was coming next.  Thought-provoking, too. 

Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome)
This is a British children's classic about children "messing about with boats" (to borrow a line from The Wind in the Willows), and camping, and pretending to be pirates, and a robbery and an ensuing treasure hunt.  Just delightful.   The only bummer about this book is that one of the characters is a little girl named Titty. Maybe some kids would think nothing of it, but my 11-year-old son--and a third son at that--would be bothered by the name, he admits.  I wish they would re-issue a version calling her Kitty! 

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World:  Finding Intimacy With God in the Busyness of Life (Joanna Weaver)
I found this book really encouraging, and I appreciated that it was directed to all women, not just mothers.  I'm going to pass it on to Blondechick18, as soon as I get a chance to go back over it and make a few notes. Practical, wise, reassuring and encouraging. 

My Utmost for His Highest (Oswald Chambers)
A Diary of Private Prayer (John Baillie)
I haven't ever read either of these cover to cover, but they are wonderful, short, devotional reading that I highly recommend.


Athol Dickson said...

I'm delighted you enjoyed THE CURE. Wishing you a Happy and Blessed New Year!
Athol Dickson

At A Hen's Pace said...

Thanks, Mr. Dickson! You made my day!


Jessica said...

Ah, another Trollope fan! :) I love the whole Barchester series. I had a professor one year say, off-handedly, that if a student were to read ten Trollope novels, he'd let that student off writing the semester paper. I took him up on it and got hooked. :)

At A Hen's Pace said...


What a great prof! ;)


hopeinbrazil said...

A lovely list of books. I plan to read a couple that you've listed here. I've always been intimidated by Steinbeck, but your suggestion sounds like a good place to start.

Amy @ Experience Imagination said...

I highly recommend you read some more of Robin Jones Gunn's books. She's one of my favorite "fluffy" authors--specifically because she doesn't just write fluffy books. I've enjoyed all the Sisterchicks books as well as some of her teen-oriented fiction (Christy Miller/Sierra Jensen/Katie Weldon).